Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Greg Cochran on Ebola

We're certainly hearing a lot from pundits about the ebola thing, and with their degrees in journalism or some other rigorous subject, they're very convincing, aren't they? Mostly, of course, they're assuring us that there's nothing to see here, and Obama is doing a wonderful job on ebola just like he is on everything else from terrorism to Ferguson.

And, of course, ebola is nothing to worry about. Just ask politicians. Just scroll down to many more posts on the subject for such reassurance.

But maybe, instead of politicians and the MAG (media, academia, government) in general, we should as an actual scientist for an evaluation of ebola, and just how wise it is to welcome people with the disease to fly in and hang out with us all. A few hideous American deaths are a small price to pay for maintaining a politically correct policy vis-à-vis Africa, after all, because slavery, and racism, and Trayvon.

Well, here's my favorite actual scientist, Greg Cochran, writing from Takimag.

Come on in, the Plague Is Fine

People are afraid of Ebola, and they have a right to be—but they also need to understand it.

Ebola is a highly dangerous viral infection, killing more than half of those infected. The death rate is higher than that in cases without hospital care, lower when supportive therapy (oxygen, intravenous fluids, dialysis) is available.

It is transmitted by direct contact (through breaks in the skin or mucous membranes) with every kind of body fluid, from blood to sweat to semen. At this point, there’s no known example of airborne transmission between people: be thankful for that. We also know the virus doesn’t last long in the open air.

It’s clear that Ebola isn’t all that contagious—nothing like influenza or measles, which are airborne. It seems that it can only spread widely in favorable conditions—either crowded West African slums where people’s burial customs expose them, or, paradoxically, in less-than-perfect hospitals, where carelessness and improper gear leave medical personnel vulnerable. I say carelessness, but “errors” might be a better word. Working in a hospital with no resources or electricity, filled with desperately ill people who are bleeding and puking, seems to increase almost everyone’s error rate.

Another factor that limits Ebola’s chance of becoming the next pandemic is its sheer virulence, coupled with direct person-to-person transmission: people are only infectious for a few weeks at most, after which they’re either dead or immune to that strain.

Ebola is not originally a human disease at all. Its reservoir is thought to be fruit bats, which carry the virus, but don’t seem to get very sick.

In any epidemic, the key statistic is the number of new cases per case. If that parameter is greater than one, the number of cases grows exponentially, and you have an epidemic. If less than one, the disease dies out. That parameter may not be the same in every environment: it’s obviously greater than 1.0 in Liberia, but as long as Americans don’t have their entire extended families handle the body at a funeral, it’s almost certainly well under 1.0 here.

So—what short-term risk do Americans face from infected people flying here from West Africa? Small national risk: under current policy, you might see a sick West African visitor infect one or two Americans, likely hospital personnel. And some of those infected people would die, even with good care. Second question: Why take this risk? There’s no reason to do so. The administration claims that limiting incoming travel from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone would backfire. Why do they say that?

I’d say that it’s because they’re nuts, which is often the deep reason behind federal action. Oh, undoubtedly they’re thinking something nonsensical about the horrors of profiling black Africans, but let’s be real: we’d quarantine Sweden if they had something like Ebola, be they ever so blond, and we’d be right to do so. At the end of the day, nuts, like I said.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of NIH), said a travel embargo on West African countries that are struggling with Ebola would make it much harder for them to control the virus.

“You isolate them, you can cause unrest in the country,” Fauci told Fox News Sunday. “It’s conceivable that governments could fall if you just isolate them completely.”

So, we’re supposed to believe that blocking flights to the U.S. for the duration would destabilize an African government. Riiight. But Fauci had to say something. He has no logical explanation for the administration’s position—but then, none exists. He’s just being a loyal bureaucrat. Everybody and his brother are closing that door: Air France and British Airways have both temporarily halted flights. Since they read the polls, if nothing else, the Obama Administration will probably end up doing the same.

Read the rest here:
Quibcag: Agreeing with Greg Cochran about the perniciousness of the argument is Hinagiku, of 


  1. I'm not sure we have the same definition of "isn’t all that contagious". Someone with ebola who is sweating and uses a door knob an hour or so before you, can give you ebola, if you have scrapes or nicks on your hand or if you touch your eyes or nose with that hand.

    1. Good point. I suppose it's not all that contagious in comparison with things that are even more so :) But plenty contagious enough. At any rate, as a layman, I want it kept out.

  2. The subtext here is that they do not want the United States to be protected from Ebola because that would reduce the incentive to cure it in Africa. They think that leaving us exposed incentivizes us to spend more to fix Africa to protect ourselves.

    That's why dismissals of any suggestion that we contain or quarantine the virus are always followed by the statement "the only way to protect the United States is to stop the spread of the disease in East Africa."

    1. My God, you're absolutely right. That hadn't occurred to me. Once again I was not cynical enough.

  3. It is impossible to believe the US Govt did not realize this was going to happen; and yet it did nothing to restrict travel to and from the affected areas in West Africa.

    The same is true in other Western European countries.

    The only tenable conclusion is that either they want outbreaks to occur in the West,to spur research and development for the sake of West Africa, or they don't give a rat's ass about the populations that they are ostensibly elected to protect, and stupidly believe themselves to be immune.

    Either way they should be encouraged to resign.

    The recklessness with which the Ebola epidemic is being mismanaged by the Western leadership is a metaphor for their immigration policies, in which they persist in importing radical and fundamentalist zealots whose only raison d'etre is to undermine and ultimately destroy the white Christian/secular world.

    It's time. In fact, it's way past time.